If there’s any Ravens free agent with a legitimate reason to say, “Why are you looking to replace ME?”, it’s Matt Stover.
After all, Stover remains one of the league’s most consistent kickers. And, despite a slow start in ’08 when a new special teams coach altered the team’s snap-hold-kick sequence, Matt Stover came through with several clutch kicks throughout the campaign including the game-winner at Tennessee in the playoff victory over the Titans.
Stover is a free agent, joining a smattering of other quality kickers in the league who are willing to change teams for the right price.
Why are the Ravens waiting to sign Stover?
Is there anyone out there who’s available that’s better?
Better? Probably not. Almost as good, and, perhaps, younger? Sure.
Here are the three free agent kickers who are likely to be of interest if they decide to “go in another direction” rather than bring the 41-year old Stover back for a 14th season in Baltimore.
Mike Nugent was a 2nd round draft pick of the Jets in 2005 and was humming along nicely until an injury in 2008 limited his action to just one kick. Shaun Suisham is available (and inconsistent) after a second go-round in Washington. The guy who might be the best replacement for Stover – if the Ravens part company with him – is Jay Feely. An interesting stat on Feely: he’s attempted 290 extra points in his NFL career – he’s made 288 of them.
Stover, by the way, has NEVER missed an extra point in 13 seasons in Baltimore. Read that again: NEVER missed an extra point in 13 seasons. Wow.
The armchair GM’s will say, “Stover doesn’t have leg strength anymore…he can’t kick it from 50 yards or more.” They’ll also say, “Stover’s killing us on kick-offs. He can’t kick it out of the end zone and the other team gets good field position every time.”
First, let’s address the “leg strength” issue.
In the last three seasons, Stover has attempted a grand total of three field goals from 50+ yards and he made one of them.
In the same three year span, Feely is 3 of 4 from 50+ yards. Suisham is 2 of 6, and Nugent is 3 of 7.
On the other hand (or foot), Stover is 19 of 28 from 40-49 yards. Feely is 17 of 22. Suisham is 22 of 29 and Nugent is 10 of 12.
In other words: 50 yard field goals just aren’t happening enough to warrant keeping – or firing – your field goal kicker. I’m not saying having a guy on your team who is efficient from 50 yards or more isn’t a good thing to have. That’s a GREAT luxury, in fact. I’m saying the statistics show that there just aren’t enough 50 yarders attempted to justify making a kicking change if your team’s kicker isn’t “spot-on” from 50 or more.
In the last three seasons, the four players I listed are AVERAGING 5 attempts per-season from 50+ yards.
In the last three seasons, those same four players are AVERAGING just under 23 attempts per-season from 40-49 yards.
Want the 30-39 yard stats? They favor Stover even more. In fact, over the last three seasons, Stover is nearly perfect, with 1 miss – yes, ONE miss, in 28 attempts from that distance in the ’06, ’07 and ’08 seasons combined. None of the other three free agents I’ve compared herein can boast of the same productivity.
Ready for another Hall-of-Fame stat on Stover? In his entire career in the NFL, he’s attempted 156 kicks from 30-39 yards. He’s made 141 of them. 15 misses in 18 years. Amazing stuff.
As for kicking it out of the end zone, I understand the logic on that note, because field position does matter at all times during the game.
That said, give me the field goal kicker who puts points on the board and is reliable from inside 50 yards and I’ll take the downside of the opposition starting at the 29 three or four times a game instead of the 20.
Anytime someone says, “fire the coach!”, I always say, “sure, who we gettin’ to replace him?”
Whenever I hear someone say, “Get rid of Stover, he can’t do it anymore!”, I reply the same way. ”Sure, who we gettin’?”
In this case, I’ve seen the available free agents. It’s a thin list of impressive candidates. I’ve listed three of them for your review. I think Jay Feely is the best of the lot. I’d take him on MY team.
But, for this Ravens team, I’m sticking with Stover for at least another season.
As he showed last year in Tennessee with the team’s life on the line, it’s just about a sure 3 – from #3 – when it matters most.
I don’t know what the Ravens are waiting for, but an outstanding free agent kicker is available if they’d like to make their team better in 2009.
His name is Matt Stover.